No signs of returning deliveries at Shawville Hospital

by Laurie Trudel

Dozens of mothers have had to give birth at least an hour’s drive from their homes in Gatineau or Ontario since the temporary closure of the birthing unit at Shawville Hospital almost two years ago. A situation that is likely to continue, for lack of health workers.

The recruitment of nurses specializing in obstetrics has stalled. No nurse has been added to the team since the announcement of the temporary closure on February 21, 2020. Despite the efforts made, the campaign of great seduction of the Integrated Health and Social Services Center (CISSS) of the Outaouais has not produced the expected results.

There are only three nurses trained in obstetrics left at the Shawville Hospital, while it takes 12 to provide complete and safe care to mothers and babies in Pontiac. The missing nine nurses have still not been recruited, or at least have not stayed. Without them, the department cannot reopen.

In 2020, 78 babies of Quebec mothers were born at the Pembroke Regional Hospital. This is 43 more than in 2019.

Since January 1, 2021, 23 births have taken place at the Gatineau hospital, to mothers who should have given birth in the Pontiac, if the department was not closed.

Samantha Smith is pregnant with her fifth child. The other four were born at Shawville Hospital, but the youngest will not be so lucky. The couple will have to go to Pembroke Hospital this time around, an hour’s drive away. It is twenty minutes less than to get to the Gatineau Hospital.

For Ms. Smith, every minute can make a difference. She is due to give birth on December 21 and does not know in what weather conditions she will have to make the trip to the hospital. She also does not know how long it will be between the start of contractions and the arrival of her boy. His emergency plan is to call in paramedics.

Samantha Smith’s family PHOTO: COURTESY / SAMANTHA SMITH

Samantha Smith is pregnant with her fifth child. The other four were born at Shawville Hospital, but the youngest will not be so lucky. The couple will have to go to Pembroke Hospital this time around, an hour’s drive away. It is twenty minutes less than to get to the Gatineau Hospital.

For Ms. Smith, every minute can make a difference. She is due to give birth on December 21 and does not know in what weather conditions she will have to make the trip to the hospital. She also does not know how long it will be between the start of contractions and the arrival of her boy. His emergency plan is to call in paramedics.

“  This is my fifth child so labor can be done very quickly, or it can take a long time, you can’t predict it and I don’t want to give birth on the side of the road. Maybe I should call the ambulance. 

The temporary closure of the obstetrics department was to last at least 6 months , but it is impossible at this time for regional health authorities to determine when a return of deliveries will be possible in the Pontiac.

We are making every effort to recruit , writes the CISSS information officer de l’Outaouais in an email sent to Radio-Canada.

The CISSS de l’Outaouais ensures that it has not relegated the obstetrics file in Shawville to the bottom of the pile of priorities because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To alleviate the shortage of nurses and midwives, the CISSS de l’Outaouais announced in August 2020 that it wanted to set up a hybrid model to allow future mothers to obtain pregnancy follow-up in rural areas with a doctor or a midwife and giving birth at Shawville Hospital.

Two midwives were to be hired within a few months. Once again, recruiting efforts have come to nothing. No midwife has joined the team since.

Scholarships have been set up by the CISSSde l’Outaouais to convince midwives to come and work in the Outaouais. Two of them were recruited last year, but before knowing if they will go to help Shawville, we will have to wait until they have their licenses in hand.

When will we reopen?

Can we really hope for a reopening of the obstetrics department in Shawville? Many are asking the question. The director of youth programs at the CISSS de l’Outaouais, Martine Bilodeau, is hopeful of getting there, although she recognizes that the task is not easy.

“  Our first objective, both for the community and for us, is to reopen obstetrics as quickly as possible, as long as it is safe for mothers who are going to give birth.  “

– A quote from  Martine Bilodeau, Director of Youth Programs, CISSS from the Outaouais

Liberal member for Pontiac André Fortin wants a deadline. He summons the Quebec Ministry of Health to present a concrete reopening plan. We have no measures in place to attract nurses to our region […] I do not see any specific action plan for the Pontiac hospital and that is completely unacceptable, he protests.

“  I don’t see a more urgent, more pressing issue.  “

– A quote from André Fortin, Liberal MP for Pontiac

For its part, a group of Pontiac women is mobilizing and plans to file a petition during the MRC council meeting.of November 24 to ask the Quebec government to reopen the birthing unit at the Shawville Hospital. Warden Jane Toller expects the petition to collect a lot of signatures.

Ms. Toller and four mayors of the Pontiac also participated in several meetings with the CISSS de l’Outaouais in the last year and a half, in order to find creative solutions to encourage nurses to settle in the Pontiac.

The prefect of the MRC du Pontiac, Jane Toller
PHOTO: RADIO-CANADA

A promotional video developed with the community made it possible to hire doctors for the hospital, according to the CISSS de l’Outaouais, but no nurses specializing in obstetrics.

Nurses’ salaries, the sinews of war

Jane Toller does not blame the CISSSde l’Outaouais for this recruitment failure. However, she fears that this prolonged closure is the prelude to a final closure. Ms. Toller is convinced that the solution is to increase the wages of Quebec nurses.

“  As long as the government does not equalize the wages of Ontario nurses, there is no point in trying to recruit, we are unable to keep nurses in Quebec.  “

– A quote from  Jane Toller, Warden, MRC Pontiac

She even goes so far as to say that regional health authorities are wasting their time trying to recruit, as long as the government does not adjust salaries .

The warden is also in discussions with Heritage College to set up a nursing course at its Pontiac campus next fall.

The CISSSde l’Outaouais also wants to develop internships and scholarships for nurses in the region in collaboration with educational institutions. It’s too important for the community and for us , adds Martine Bilodeau.